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Published: August 29th 2007
Happy Birthday Greetings to:
😊 Opa - 93 years (August 23)
😊 Pops - 59 years (August 29)
😊 Panic - 1 year (August 29)
The Parika Ferry Stelling was crowded with people and vehicles and fruits
. Built with massive greenheart (one of the most durable hardwoods and a native of Guyana's forests) piles, logs and slabs, the dock was the major 'terminal' for transport up or down the Essequibo River. Big motor ferries, like the MV Barima, transported vehicles, produce and people to destinations accessible only by boat. The more adventurous or those with a need for speed, could always ride the waves in any of the many speedboats. Parika itself, which lies some 50 km from Georgetown, is a thriving little village on the east bank of the Essequibo River. Most of the banks and a few insurance companies have tiny branch operations in Parika which serves as a commercial hub. We rode the bus from Georgetown, over the Demerara Harbour Bridge (see Guyana: So much to do, so little time) and thru the West Bank of Demerara. The whole trip took an hour past luscious rice fields, fat cows and the occassional view on
the Dutch-built seawall.
Back in 1999, Vibert had opened and managed a branch of Hand-In-Hand Insurance Company (the leading insurance company in Guyana) in Parika and so we stopped by for a quick visit before we walked up to the stelling. Cart loads of coconuts, stacks of pineapples, plantains and pumpkins awaited transport. From our vantage point, we looked down on brightly-coloured speedboats of varying sizes and hustlers hustling passengers. The river ran brown probably from the churning of the clay river bed by the strong current and the propellers of boats. Navigating thru a golden-brown sand patch littered with cups and bottles and plastics, evidence of human presence, we stepped down to the waterside. A noisy, smelly man under a makeshift shed, scrawled what was supposed to be our names in a dirty book. Apparently, this was supposed to be used to identify us if we were somehow lost on the river or harmed in an attack by the new breed of 'pirates' who had recently started to plunder the high rivers. 😱The boat we chose was wooden, looked well-worn but sturdy, had a 200 HP engine. It was a 19-seater and when we pushed back from the
sand bank, we had a boat-full. The destination was Bartica - a tiny town at the confluence of the Essequibo and Mazaruni Rivers
. It has an area of approximately one square mile. The name Bartica means "red earth." Started as an Anglican missionary settlement in 1842, it came to be regarded as the "Gateway to the Interior" and is the launching point for people who work in the bush mining gold and diamonds. The town has a population of about 15,000 and sits in Region 7 of Guyana's 10 administrative regions - the Cuyuni-Mazaruni. The region is primarily known for its mining operations and mountain ranges like Mount Roraima (2,810 metres high, standing at the point where Guyana, Brazil and Venezuela meet) and Mount Ayanganna.
The captain told us to unfold the neat piles of tarpaulin and we saw why. In the distance, black clouds loomed. The big engine revved and the 'rooster's tail' spray out from behind. The water was flat and we skimmed across. It was impossible to see in front since the bow of the boat raked upwards completely obscuring our forward view. Sawmills and mangroves, 'beaches' and houses and a barge with logs flew
past. The sheer breadth of the river was astounding. Sure enough, 20 minutes into the trip, we hit a rain wall. The pellets stung our faces and forced us under the tarp. The visibility was reduced to about 3 meters/9 feet but the captain did not once release the throttle.😊 We continued at the same speed although the water got noticeably choppier whipped up by the high winds. He rolled the boat left and right trying to find the right spot to ride the swells and under the tarp, we could do nothing but pray. His eyes were a tiny slit since he was the only one who had to stand and face the stinging rain. We punched thru the rainstorm and emerged to beauty scenery. Birds and trees and divergent channels around islands appeared. We took the left-most channel and it seemed like the river had gotten smaller all of a sudden. 'JATS' - Guyana's Jungle and Amphibious Training School passed on the left and Shanklands Two - a mansion which completely occupied a tiny island in the center of the river - passed on the right. We were close. Off to the right, in the distance, we saw
the outlines of civilization. The captain pointed to bow to Bartica and we started to cut across from the left bank to the right.
The sign on the dock read 'Welcome to Bartica'. G$3,600 was paid for us both to the soaked, waiting captain and we walked the short distance to the road and made a right on to First Avenue. Pops had given us directions to a colleague of his - a well-known Justice of the Peace and Notary named Samuel Dasraj. Mr. Dasraj was easy to find. His office was directly opposite the nauseatingly-ugly, bright yellow building with housed Bartica's branch of 'Courts' - a huge furniture retailer. After introductions and some small talk, Mr. Dasraj offered to show us around the town. Since it was raining, we jumped into his shiny, brand-new Honda CRV which he eased ever-so-gently into and out of the potholes. We got history lessons as we drove thru the streets and avenues of Bartica. The town did indeed cater to the needs of the miners and it showed. Bush trucks, pipelines and other mining equipment were stored on the parapets of some roads. The market was bustling as were all markets in
Guyana. The streets were getting a much-needed upgrade and lots of homes were being built. Mr. Dasraj said that returning miners were quick to build and that new housing areas were being opened. In fifteen minutes flat it was over. We had covered the seven avenues and nine streets of the one square-mile town. Bidding goodbye to Mr. Dasraj, we went in search of a place to stay. In a tiny street we came upon a cheerful yellow building. There we negotiated with a nice lady who promised to give us a discount if we chose her place. As we were leaving, the lady showed us an album with different pictures of nearby attractions. She said that her husband - Balkaran Bhagwandas - was a well-known but economical guide who knew the really good places to visit. She said that during a trip he made with some US biologists, they discovered a new specie of beetles and it (Bhagwandorum) was named after him. Cool eh? Your own beetle? Ah well, we think so!
We told her we'd think about the night's stay and the trip and then we headed to the nearby beach. The sand was a deep golden-brown with
speckles of 'gold dust'. Vibert plunged into the water and Shanna, who had developed a 'black-water phobia since 'Sankar-gate' (see Iwokrama), created faces in the sand and called it 'art'. 😊
It was about 4pm when a boat bearing the name 'D Factor' approached us on the beach. Balkaran said his wife had given him descriptions. We chatted about a trip up the river and agreed on a price for the next day. Balkaran was going across the river to a friend to set a fishing net and we hitch-hiked along. Joyce Davis
met us at her private dock. She was a tall, elegant woman with perfect posture. Joyce and her husband, David, were sailors for sixteen years. They had circumnavigated the world a few times in 'Mood Indigo' - the 30-foot sailboat which was anchored just offshore. A little over a year past, they had sailed up the mouth of the Essequibo River and had fallen madly in love with Bartica. They purchased land, built a house and, for the first time in sixteen years, they put down roots. Unfortunately, David passed away a month or so ago. This Joyce told us while giving us the grand tour
of her property. She had levelled trees, created a private beach, had a creek running thru the property and wild animals, birds and monkeys who visited regularly. These included a cougar and two anteaters. We had tea and pleasant conversation and a note or two of jazz from Joyce who was actually a wonderful jazz singer. She was ultra-excited about our undertaking and gave us had her contact details including her latitude and longitude. Cool eh? Your own latitude and longitude? Ah well, we think so!
The sun had long set and so was Balkaran's net when we left Joyce. Balkaran opened the throttle and the big 200 hp outboard responded thrusting us forward at a tremendous pace up the dark river and to the lights of Bartica. In a clean, comfortable room we slept dreaming of tomorrow.
It was chilly, scary dark at 5 am. We waited while Balkaran untied the boat and minutes later we were cutting a track thru the still morning waters of the Essequibo. Surely, we thought, there would be so many fishes trapped in the 'tangle net'. Ever so carefully we pulled at the net. Leaves and driftwood had to be extricated. Eight
minutes passed and we were yet to see a single fish. Then, before we lost all hope, a silver snapper lifted our spirits. Then it was a mud-sucking, evil-looking, armour-plated, bottom-feeding scavenger 'thing' followed by a catfish with wicked saw-like fins.😞 Rounding out the morning's catch of weirdos was a huge shrimp with long, bright blue tentacles. It was totally unlike anything we had ever seen. Only four fishes from 30 meters/90 feet of net and each dramatically different from the other. The return on the fishing investment was minimal but the unbelievable surise made it all worthwhile. To attempt a description would be to advance knowing that failure was inevitable. It was one of those things where you just simply had to be there.
Our boat trip started around 9 am. Balkaran was knowledgeable and witty. He spouted facts and figures and dates and places as we sped thru the confluence of the Essequibo and Marazuni Rivers. He pointed out Kaow Island, Calf Island, Skull Point and an island housing 'Guyana's highest institution of learning'
. As we got closer, we could make out gangs of orange-clad men and an outnumbered warden. It was the Mazaruni Prison - Guyana's
hardcore jail. A few minutes later another river emerged - the Cuyuni. A tiny island with a single arch stood right where the Cuyuni and Mazaruni collided. It was once the fort of 'Kyk-Over-All' - a Dutch-built fortress strategically positioned to 'See Over All'. Then we were on the Mazaruni only. Although not nearly as broad as the Essequibo, it too was impressive. Several times it was split in divergent channels by islands. Balkaran knew which track to take. He told us that one could get hopelessly lost in the labyrinth of channels and islands. We stared, both of us marvelling at the wonder of it all - the thick green foliage, cheerful birds and the odd gold dredge sucking up silt from the river bed. The water became flat. We were cutting a swath thru liquid glass and then ... out of nowhere the Marshall Rapids appeared. Through a narrower channel the water rushed angrily. Twisting and turning, heaving and falling, the powerful tide crushed everything in its path. We slowed almost to a stop. Balkaran sized up the monster and then gunned the big engine. The bang-bang-bang of a million hammers sounded thru the bottom of the metal
boat and sent vibrations, fear and trepidation thru our very core. Giant, ominous whirlpools opened up all around as Balkaran maneuvered around them. If we were caught in a spinner, we'd all be goners. After what seemed like an eternity, we cleared the rough and skimmed again over the tranquil, gentle river. At a nearby campsite we stopped to catch our breath and take a swim and then...back thru the rapids we went. But this time we rode with the tide. At times, it felt like Balkaran had lost control of the boat but just (just)
before a particularly vicious whirlpool, he righted the boat and powered thru. Our adrenaline subsided with every passing minute and soon we reached our second destination. Tucked away in the jungle, about seven minutes walk from the river, was a cute, inviting falls. Opposite an island that bears its name, Baracara Falls was full from the recent rains. We immersed ourselves in the cool, fresh water and clambored up and down the falls at will. An hour-and-a-half later we were back in the heart of Bartica. Mr. Dasraj walked us back to the docks to see us off.
With the thrills of Bartica
and the Marazuni River behind us, we faced north towards Parika and we knew from the dark, brooding clouds, distant sounds of thunder and flash of lightning that it would be another interesting boat ride back. The adventure never ends, it seems.
Special thanks to:
😊 Mr. Dasraj for his kind hospitality
😊 Balkaran and his wife
😊 Joyce Davis for welcoming and feeding us.
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